Page 28


BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Last Picture Shows An Anthology of Arguments for Public Television BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN SEASON 10 OF P.O.V. PBS. SUMMER, 1997. i n the age of cable, why fund PBS? Congress found reasons to reduce appropriations, and the network survives by denying its basis for taxpayer support. With soft-core and endless reruns of Lawrence Welk, PBS affiliates have become barely distinguishable from commercial cable operations. If all TV channels are really disguised versions of the Shopping Channel, co-conspirators in promoting the consumer culture, then so is PBS, where cooking lessons are the bread-and-butter of weekend programming. P.O.V., the annual summer series of independent nonfiction film, is one of the few projects that still affirm the mission of public broadcasting: to provide an alternative and a challenge to profit-driven television. Its 1997 season began on June 3 and continues every Tuesday evening through August 5 \(local schedules vary and not every PBS season, P.O. V.which stands for Point of View and for integrity in documentary artis as pointed and worth viewing as ever. The series that brought Roger and Me, Silverlake Life: The View From Here, Dialogues with Madwomen, Berkeley in the Sixties and Who Killed Vincent Chin? to national TV continues to bring out the best in socially conscious cinema. Consider, for example, A Perfect Candidate, a perfect way to conclude the series, on August 5. In the tradition of The War Room and of prior P.O.V. offerings Running Against the Kennedys and Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics, it makes electrifying ethnography out of electoral combat. A perfect candidate was not available for the 1994 Virginia race that pitted the incumbent Senator, Democrat Chuck Robb, against Republican nominee Oliver North. “It’s a choice between a devil and a demon,” complains a college student. “Who’re you gonna vote for: the flu or the mumps?” Producer-directors R. J. Cutler \(The War and David Van Taylor \(Dream Dedistilled 120 minutes out of the eleven months they spent following Robb and North selling themselves throughout Virginia. George Washington has long since disappeared from the commonwealth, and what A Perfect Candidate makes visible is not only the meager qualities of the two leading candidates for P.O.V., THE ANNUAL SUMMER SERIES OF INDEPENDENT NONFICTION FILM, IS ONE OF THE FEW PROJECTS THAT STILL AFFIRM THE MISSION OF PUBLIC BROADCASTING: TO PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE. AND A CHALLENGE TO PROFIT-DRIVEN TELEVISION. United States Senate but also the imperfections of representative government. If democracy has degenerated into vulgar spectacle, this film also examines its own complicity in the sorry business. Nobody’s Business, which kicked off the season on June 3, is an irresistible exercise in personal genealogy, featuring a character who is as genial as a turnip. Attempting to trace his family roots, Alan Berliner puts his cantankerous father on camera. “I was in the army, I got married, I raised a family, worked hard, had my own business, that’s all. That’s nothing to make a picture about,” rails the lonely old misanthrope. “It’s ridiculous.” Yet the younger man manages to coax out of his father, other relatives, and distant archives a compelling story of blood and bluster. At the end of Nobody’s Business, when the father grouses that his son should have become an accountant instead of a filmmaker, few viewers would concur. Battle for the Minds, scheduled for broadcast June 10, examines a different sort of patriarchythe fundamentalist men who seized control of the Southern Baptist Convention and refused to allow women to serve as senior pastors. Though it traces the church’s origins to Roger Williams’ valiant quest for religious freedom from Puritan repression in Massachusetts, and contends that Baptists John Leland and Issac Baccus were, along with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, instrumental in creating the First Amendment, Steven Lipscomb’s film presents a Baptist movement commandeered by Pharisees intent on enforcing questionable dogma about homosexuality, abortion, and women clergy. “Fortuitously, we stumbled onto remarkable events that you see in this film,” announces the novice director in his prologue. Most of his footage was assembled during April, 1995, when the board of trustees met at the Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, and a group of students and faculty gathered, in a candlelight vigil, to oppose recent actions and policies of their institution. The protesters are most distraught over the forced resignation of Molly Marshall, an eloquent professor of theology who won the campus teaching award just the spring before. Marshall’s elimination leaves the school without a single tenured woman and sends a signal to other women that they are not welcome as leaders within the Southern Baptist movement. “If you believe that pastors can be women, then you need to go somewhere else,” explains Barrett Hyman, a trustee at Southern. “So you see the gauntlet is down….If professors believe that, then it’s our job to get them out of here.” Laura Simon’s daytime job is fourthgrade teacher at Hoover Elementary School, in a neighborhood that she calls “the Ellis Island of Los Angeles.” But as a filmmaker, Simon, who was born in Mexico, earns more than a passing grade for depicting the complexities of public education in the age of Proposition 187, the California initiative that, if upheld by the courts, will deny public services to the children of 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 20, 1997